Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ironman Barcelona Race Report: David Fernandez

After finishing my first Ironman in May, all I could think about was when my next attempt would be at this distance. I looked at many options, but there was no better choice than racing the inaugural Ironman Barcelona in my home town. I truly believe that I would not have finished as fast as I did without the support of friends and family who came to cheer me on. They made this race very special for me. As always, my wife’s support and my sister Anabel’s invaluable nutrition advice were not only critical during the race, but also in the months leading up to it. My Triple Threat teammates were instrumental in providing training and race day advice, and the gear from our sponsors had a direct impact on a successful race performance.


Although I had a great base from Ironman Texas (IMTX), my training leading up to Barcelona wasn’t ideal. Weeks 7 and 8 before the race I was on vacation and did minimal training. Week 6 I was back in Miami and tried to overcompensate, resulting in a foot injury that prevented me from running for two weeks. A structured 3 week taper was critical to getting me race ready. My body was able to absorb the training and recover from injuries, and I felt refreshed from accumulated fatigue.

9 hours after barely catching my flight, I was landing in Barcelona!! 
Like a Miami Heat traitor said this summer: I am coming home!!!

Pre-race swim in the Mediterranean, rockin the Roka!

Friday I went for a short run, which helped combat the jet lag I was feeling, and later went to the beach with my wife, getting a short swim in in my new ROKA wetsuit. Sat. I checked in my bike and gear bags after a final short ride and run… I was WAY more relaxed than I was at IMTX and ready to go.

My bike got in one piece to Spain. Ready to drop off my most precious possession in transition.


I woke up at 4:50 and had my pre-race breakfast: 120 grams of cereal + 2 tbsp of Nesquick and 400 ml of fat free milk. My parents’ house is 50 miles from Calella, where the race actually takes place, so it took us ~50 min to get there. I had 2.5 hrs until my wave started, much different from IMTX, where I ran out of time and started the swim late. I pumped my tires and was packing my nutrition when an electrical storm started... thunder, lightning, and lots of rain. I headed back to the car and we drove to the swim start. There were rumors the race may be cancelled, and things got chaotic. However, as I wrote in my pre-race interview, you have to be ready to expect anything and just focus on controlling what you can. Finally it was announced that we would just be postponed 30 min. Vamos!! We headed to the swim start and I couldn’t wait to get in the water. It was raining and freezing, and I was ready to start!

hard core supporters 10 min before delayed start – Katie (wife), Anabel (sister), & mom



Improve IMTX swim of 1:19:22 (1:53 min / 100 yards)
1:11:59 (1:42 min / 100 yards)
Total Time:

The swim was an ocean swim with a wave start (~350 in my AG), a lot easier than IMTX where I started with 2,700. Swimming is my weakest discipline, and I didn’t want to burn any matches here, especially since we’d be swimming largely against the current. I managed to find a nice rhythm that felt like a long training swim. The water wasn’t very choppy, although I swallowed my share of salt water as I only breathe to my right. I’ve worked really hard over the past few months on my swim, increasing my volume to 12,000-14,000 yards / week and doing more interval sets. Also, my new ROKA wetsuit was a great step up from my previous wetsuit. It felt effortless to swim in and I had complete range of motion in my arms. Before I knew it the swim was over, and I was amazed to have shaved so much time off my IMTX swim. Was great to see the hard work and new wetsuit pay off!


I ran out of the water and into the changing tent, swim stuff off, bike stuff on, and ran for my bike. I grabbed it, ran to the mount line, jumped on, and was ready to tackle a 112 mile ride!

T1 Time:
Total Time:



Match IMTX bike time of 5:14:31 (21.4 mph)
5:04:40 (22.1 mph)
Total Time:

I have a bittersweet feeling looking back at my performance on the bike. I think I was capable of breaking 5 hours, setting me up for a sub 10 hr Ironman. However, given everything that happened, I must be happy that I was just able to finish...

My strategy was to stay in high zone 2 / low zone 3 and zone 4 for the climbs. It was aggressive, but I knew I could handle it and have plenty of legs left for the run. We biked through narrow streets and sharp turns for the first 2 miles until we hit the major road where most of the course took place. The biggest two hills came soon after, then it was a fast course with only minor hills, but quite a few roundabouts.

I was going fast (24-25 mph), taking advantage of some tailwinds, yet being careful on the turns and roundabouts as the road was wet from the morning storm. At mile 18, I was entering a roundabout with a race official on a motorcycle on my left. A fellow athlete thought he had enough space to pass between the motorcycle and myself… he didn’t, falling and taking me down with him. I hit the road hard with my hip and shoulder and got scratches all over my right side. Also, my helmet hit the road and flew away. I got up, in pain and a little dizzy. I was assisted by medical volunteers, who urged me to not continue. No way!! I was racing at home with my family and friends there. I exchanged a few words that can’t be repeated here with the guy who made me fall, grabbed my bike, and started peddling again. The whole process took 5-6 min.

But, was my bike ok?? Two of my three bottle cages were broken and only four gears worked, but thankfully everything else seemed ok. It was a challenge to complete more than 90 miles with only 4 gears, one bottle of sports drink at a time on my bike, and no visor or sunglasses (my helmet visor broke on the fall). As I mentioned in my pre-race interview, it’s very important to adapt and expect the unexpected when doing an Ironman!

I stayed positive, made sure to follow my nutrition plan (a little low on liquids though),
and tried not to think about the time lost or the knee and hip pain. I quickly recovered momentum and targeted the intensity zones I had planned to hit before the crash. The first 1.5 loops were fast, with breathtaking views of the Maresme coast and mountains on each side of the road. We faced some headwinds during the back half of the second loop, so although my intensity stayed the same, my speed went down to average 21.5 mph. I took advantage of the tailwinds on the way out during the last half loop, but took it easy on the way back, wanting to preserve my legs for the marathon. I was soon riding the city streets again on the way back to transition. I was happy with my bike time, but especially with just making it back. When I went down, I thought it was game over.


I did a flying dismount, racked my bike, tossed by bike stuff and grabbed my run bag.
Shoes, sunglasses and visor on, then off and ready to run!

T2 Time:


Total Time:



Break 4 hours - was 3:58 at IMTX (9:05 min/mile)
3:46:38 (8:39 min/mile)
Total Time:

As mentioned, my running fitness wasn’t great coming in, but with better bike fitness than at IMTX, I thought I could barely break 4 hours again. It was also cooler than at Texas and in Miami, where I train, which would help significantly.

My goal was to stay in zone 2 for most of the run, without paying too much attention to
pace. The run was a 4 loop course. It’s great for spectators as they get to see the athletes many times, but it got a little crowded.

Smiles for everyone… I'll go sub 10!
First Loop

Starting the run I knew my race time was 6:22. I thought briefly about my crash, and how those minutes lost would have surely given me enough of a buffer to attempt a sub 10 hour IM. I then put the crash out of my mind… it happened and I just had to deal with it. Another time it may be a flat or something else.

A 3:38 marathon (8:19 pace) to break 10 hours… still definitely possible. Focusing on that goal, I probably started out too fast. I completed the first loop averaging ~7:45 min/mile. I didn’t want to hold back while I was feeling good, plus I was still in zone 2 (high 150’s bpm).

Second Loop

I settled into a more comfortable pace of 8:15, letting my HR drop a few beats, and thought I had a real chance of breaking 10 hours. However, my fatigued mind played a trick on me. All the signs were in km, and I’m used to miles now. I had two loops to go, but thought there was only one (before the first loop we had to run 1.5 miles to a turnaround point, and I thought that was loop 1). I finished the second loop feeling quite well, but...

Still feeling great, but Katie realized I was going too fast and told me to slow down…
As usual, she was right; I should’ve listened to her. Sounds like real life!

Third Loop

Since I thought it was my last loop, I picked up my pace a little. After a couple miles I started adding up time in my head, which is when I finally realized I had two more to go. This was a psychological and physical shock! I slowed my pace and got my heart rate out of zone 3. It was too little too late, but I still managed to complete the loop averaging low 9 min/mile. After miles 15-16, everything started to hurt. My knee and hip were in pain from the crash, but all

Where's David? Did he collapse already?
the muscles and bones in both my legs were also in pain. This is when experience is invaluable. I felt the same way at IMTX, and I walked quite a bit hoping to recover. Now, I knew there was no fix to how I was feeling… my only option was to tough it out and get to the finish line as soon as possible. That’s when it would stop hurting. I knew I just had to make it to the “start/end loop point” where all my friends and family were waiting for me. Their cheers were all I needed to stay strong!

Fourth Loop

Loop 3 was hard, but this was worse. I tried to keep good form, with a light, high cadence to reduce the impact on my body, but I just didn’t have any strength left in my legs. The first couple miles were at 9:00 min pace before backing off and taking in nutrition and liquid. I was close to bonking, but with only 2+ miles left I gave everything I had, closing around 8:30 pace.

As always, the homestretch of an Ironman race is the most special time of the day. The finish line was set up like a World Cup Final event: blue carpet, TV screens, announcers, bleachers full of spectators, lights, music, etc. Everything you can dream of to make you feel like you’re on top of the world and fresh enough to sprint to the finish line, despite not having anything left. I knew that I wouldn’t break 10 hours, but it didn’t matter. I was very happy to be a few moments away from finishing my second IM. I tried to locate my friends and family, but I couldn’t, so I just started high fiving everybody I could reach.

There are no words to express the feeling of crossing an IM finish line.
It is pure happiness; you realize that anything is possible if you put the work & determination to accomplish it

The announcer (a British version of Mike Reilly) said a few facts about me, mentioned that despite a bike crash I finished with an awesome time and said the famous: “DAVID, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!” I guess some things are the same on both sides of the Atlantic. One volunteer gave me some water, another put a medal around my neck, and a third held me. Yeah, it was painful to stand up. He saw my wounds from the crash and took me to the medical tent.


I spent ~15 min in the tent getting treatment (it was scary to see how some people end up). Afterwards I went to eat something and experienced the best post-race buffet ever: pasta, chocolate croissants, baked goods, sodas, beer, fruit, coffee, etc. It was a full dinner buffet!! After I recovered a bit we drove to transition to get my bike and bags, then headed home to have a traditional Spanish meal with my friends and family. After dinner I came back to watch the end of the race live and went to bed soon after.

Best part of IM is enjoying time with loved ones & thanking them for being there all day cheering for you

The following day I took my wife shopping as she loves a few stores in Barcelona and I had promised it to her. My legs were a little sore, but I was able to sit most of the time. Then more family and friends time continued for lunch and dinner (meals in Spain tend to be long when you gather with family and close friends; you can easily spend 4-5 hours, so eating was mostly all we did all day!).

We flew out early Tues. morning, landing in Miami in the afternoon. During the flight is when my wounds started bothering me. Twelve days after the race, my shoulder and especially my hip are
not quite right. I hope it’s just a matter of time for them to heal.























- 7:23




Despite being so close to breaking 10 hours, I’m ecstatic with my result. Putting in 3,000 more swimming yards per week than IMTX training was a big help. There’s no secret to improving your swim time other than dedicating more time to it, especially for latecomers like myself (2 years ago I couldn’t swim 25 yards across the pool).

War wounds… Shoulder and hip were BAD

Not only did I swim faster, but I was way fresher afterwards. At IMTX, between leg cramps for the last third of the swim, having my shoulders restricted by my old wetsuit, and fighting the crowd, I was exhausted. At IMBCN, my new ROKA wetsuit felt like a glove and we started in waves. I had a lot more energy starting the bike.

I also came in with better bike fitness and a more aggressive position on the bike, although that only lasted until I crashed and my seatpost dropped about an inch. However, despite the crash and the aftermath, I was still able to improve my bike split by almost 10 minutes.

The run was my biggest concern, so it was a surprise to PR by so much. Although I felt a lack of power towards the end, I think I had a good running base from the training I did all year long, and my legs were fresher coming off the bike as well.

Also, I believe I applied what I learned from IMTX to this race. I knew how I would feel at each stage of the race and how my nutrition plan would work. I only had to focus on executing the race.

Finally, racing at home was definitely a big boost. Not only on race day, with the best support crew I’ve ever had, but also pre-race. The day before I was watching a movie at home with my family, had home-cooked meals, and slept in my own bed. After the race, I was able to enjoy myself doing what I love the most: spending time with the people I care about most and eating great food!

Octopus Galician Style

Cahelos, Butelo, & Cachola (pig head...not served at IM aid stations)
Special thanks to my sister for warning me it wasn’t a good idea
to eat the entire Spanish ham rack as a pre-race meal…

The best Cheering Crew in the world!!! I would have not completed this race without their help and continuous support. From left to right: dad, mom, grandma (Yaya), Anabel, Danid, and Katie. Missing in this picture: Sofia, Rins, and Xavi.

Also, special recognition to all the people that stopped by say hi pre or post race: grandpas, Lola, Jose Luis, Jesus, Tenor, Cristina, Mateo, Yoli and many more that I am forgetting. You made this race and time in Barcelona very memorable!

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1 comment:

  1. Great report! Nice to hear about your swim time coming down, I couldn't swim last year and want to improve on this years IM time. I am doing Barcelona 2015 so just swatting up and found your report ;-)